Madison Heights mayor reports city’s progress in annual address

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 2, 2018

 During the Feb. 22 Madison Heights/Hazel Park State of the Cities address at the Hazel Park Recreation Center, Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell spoke about the city’s business climate and other initiatives.

During the Feb. 22 Madison Heights/Hazel Park State of the Cities address at the Hazel Park Recreation Center, Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell spoke about the city’s business climate and other initiatives.

Photo by Deb Jacques

MADISON HEIGHTS — “A bright future” was the running theme of Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell’s speech at the annual State of the Cities address.

Hartwell joined Hazel Park Mayor Mike Webb, taking the stage Feb. 22 before a who’s who of leaders from both cities at the Hazel Park Recreation Center.

The event was sponsored by the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce. Hartwell took the stage after a speech by U.S. Rep. Sander Levin.

“2017 was a busy year, and we accomplished some great things that continue to move the City of Progress forward,” Hartwell said. “Fiscally, the city’s future is bright as we commit ourselves to strong financial management.”

The city retained its AA bond rating — a sign of best practices — and approved a $51 million balanced budget. The Health & Wellness Center for city employees, now in its fourth year, has grown to include employees from Hazel Park and Oak Park.

On the business front, the city continues to attract and retain businesses with a “pro-business model of delivering city services,” the mayor said. For the seventh time, Madison Heights charted in the annual eCities study by the University of Michigan-Dearborn, a measure of entrepreneurial growth and economic development.

Hartwell cited Clark’s Fabrication as one success story. The city helped the company find a 4,000-square-foot industrial building where it located its custom furniture business. Its clients include Toast Restaurant, Hibachi Buffet and Lovers Only Burger Restaurant.

In addition to the ongoing E-Lounge sessions that help people learn about starting a business, the city also hosts a program called I-Connect, where big business in the city can network. The most recent I-Connect events were at W International Inc. and Mia’s Bakery, with more than 25 industrial companies in attendance.

“Madison Heights is home to 300 industrial and manufacturing businesses,” Hartwell said. “The potential for local economic growth has yet to be fully tapped.”

The mayor said that Madison Heights has a high-tech environment “that rivals any other area,” and that the city is seeing growth in defense and aerospace. Auto-related manufacturing remains a key part of the local economy. The city is also exploring county business programs through its new status as a One Stop Ready community.

“Want to know how fast you can open a business in Madison Heights? You can visit City Hall to apply for an initial business license and get administratively approved without having to wait for days or weeks for a City Council review,” Hartwell said. “If you are planning a large development project, our economic development team will meet you early on, at no cost, to show you exactly what incentives our city will offer to get you to open your doors faster.”

Since January 2017, the city has issued 94 certificates of occupancy, totaling $4.6 million in investment. The mayor said that one major industrial development was Trevco Inc., which moved from Troy with an investment of $3.5 million, bringing 115 new jobs. Trevco is a national leader in licensed apparel manufacturing.

“In other words, your favorite rock band or movie studio likely has its merchandise designed and made in Madison Heights,” Hartwell said.

A local businessman also turned his small company, 2SP Sports Performance, into an elite athletic training facility for semi-pro and pro athletes, including ones competing in the Olympics. Madison Heights is also home to the award-winning 168 KTV Bistro, whose owners invested more than $800,000 and created 10 new jobs at their location on John R Road. In addition, the former VFW Post on 11 Mile Road will soon become Woodpile BBQ, bringing 20 jobs and $400,000 in investment.

The downtown remains another focus for Madison Heights. The Downtown Development Authority, or DDA, renewed its 20-year financing plan. The aim is to turn 11 Mile and John R roads into a commercial corridor. This will include beautification and branding efforts, such as the new way-finding signs already in place. The DDA is currently planning events such as a food truck rally, a multicultural makers market, a south-end fire station open house, an art competition and more.

“In the spirit of full disclosure, we had one setback when we canceled our snowman-building contest downtown, because all the snow melted the day before,” Hartwell said to audience laughter.

He added that with nearly 200 Asian-owned businesses, “We are the de facto Chinatown of metro Detroit.” He noted that leaders from all levels of government, including the governor’s office, have told him that “Madison Heights must seize upon the economic potential of our diversity.” To this end, Madison Heights has declared itself a “Welcoming City,” dedicated to inclusivity.

The mayor also had much to report on infrastructure, with 12 public road projects in 2017, including $500,000 in federal funding for repairs to 13 Mile Road. He thanked Oakland County Commissioner Gary McGillivray for spearheading a cost-sharing program with the county to help repair roads. The city is also starting a program to replace any trees removed during construction.

“As they say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now,” Hartwell said.

In public safety, the Madison Heights Police Department is understaffed compared to 10 years ago due to budget constraints during the recession, but the city did hire and train seven police officers and one dispatcher in 2017. The city also assigned an officer to the Troy Special Investigations Unit to work on crime that crosses city borders. In addition, the city deployed Next Gen 911, so residents can send photos, video and text messages when requesting help. The city also continues to host a police open house and bicycle rodeo, improving relationships between police and the people they serve.

City Councilman David Soltis praised the work of the police.

“I’m glad we had the opportunity to fully implement an officer joining the Troy SIU,” Soltis said. “They do a lot of great work within Madison Heights and the surrounding cities, stopping organized crews that commit nonviolent crimes.”

In the Madison Heights Fire Department, a new alert system has been implemented to improve response times. City Council approved the upgrade of fire engines from Basic Life Support to Advanced Life Support, giving them similar capabilities to ambulances. City Council is now discussing hiring a new fire training officer, which would free up firefighters to perform their jobs.

“I also believe it is time to increase the amount of fire sergeants from three to six, so that our platoons have adequate leadership on every shift,” Hartwell said.

Looking ahead to this year, Hartwell called on his fellow council members to keep budget talks focused on the people they serve.

“It is the people,” the mayor said, “who make a city’s future bright.”